Ratko Mladic removed from UN war crimes court

Former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic was removed from the UN war crimes court at The Hague today after refusing to enter a plea and disrupting the judge's attempts to read out the charges against him.

The judge later entered formal pleas of not guilty on behalf of Mladic to the various charges against him, which include genocide, and relate to the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica - Europe's worst massacre since World War Two.

Having threatened to boycott his second hearing since being tracked down, arrested and extradited from Serbia in May, Mladic did appear but spent several minutes demanding different legal representation and requesting a delay before having to plead.

"No, no, I'm not going to listen to this without my lawyer," Mladic shouted as he removed his translation headphones when judge Alphons Orie began reading out the charges.

"Who are you? You're not allowing me to breathe."

Mladic, 69, was represented by a court-appointed lawyer.

The judge said the court would look into allowing him to be represented in future by other lawywers of his choice.

Arrested after 16 years on the run, Mladic had defiantly rejected war crimes charges against him as "obnoxious" and "monstrous" when he was formally charged at the Yugoslavia war crimes court last month.

Mladic is accused over a campaign to seize territory for Serbs after Bosnia, following Croatia, broke away from the Yugoslav federation in the 1990s as the Balkan state broke up during five years of war that killed at least 130,000 people.

The stakes are high for Serbia because Mladic's trial could unearth evidence showing Belgrade knew about or helped commit genocide at Srebrenica if Mladic argues he was carrying out orders, or the desires, of political leaders.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2007 that Serbia failed to prevent genocide, but was not responsible for it. The decision shielded Serbia from compensation claims from Bosnia.

"If they (Serb authorities) were more strongly involved, the conclusion would still be the same that they did not prevent genocide, but because of their involvement there might be reasons to reopen the issue of compensation," said Andre de Hoogh, a lecturer in international law at Groningen University.

Hague prosecutor Serge Brammertz has said Mladic used his power to commit atrocities and must answer for it, but Serb nationalists say Mladic defended the nation and did no worse than Croat or Bosnian Muslim army commanders.

Mladic, who has said he is a "gravely ill" man, is no longer in the prison hospital and now plays chess with other detainees. He argued last month he only defended his country and people.

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